A review of the National Assembly Library (NAL), Seoul, Republic of Korea.
A place that I return to frequently in Seoul is the National Assembly Library (NAL). The NAL is a good first stop for secondary sources and supplementary materials. Since the NAL is open to the public, it is a good destination if one is in Seoul on a short trip without an institutional home, a frequent problem in South Korea.
Collection. To use the NAL, it is best to first familiarize yourself with the online search engine and database, which can be found at www.nanet.go.kr. (Until recently the site functioned only on Internet Explorer, like most Korean sites, but it now works reliably in Chrome and Safari.) The library has done an amazing job of scanning materials and making them available online.
I have found the collection of dissertations and master’s theses to be one of the NAL’s greatest strengths compared to university libraries. Many dissertations have been scanned and are available in the computer database. You can even find old, handwritten theses scanned online. I have discovered these sources to be a treasure trove of research. For example, in researching Seoul’s poor in the 1960s and 1970s, I found numerous MA and PhD theses based on ethnographic research and small-sample surveys. Professors sent their students out to do original work, but many of the valuable results were never published. The dissertation collection also includes overseas theses related to Korea.
Some digitized material is available freely online, another portion only in the library. Here is where you need to be careful in your preparation, especially if your stay in Seoul is brief. Depending on your needs, you might find, say, two-thirds of the useful material available from home. It is the other one-third you need to go there for. Go to the library with a clear list of the materials that are unavailable online outside the library. There are many computer stations on the first floor. Competition for computers heats up in the early afternoon, but with some exploring you can find stations in other corners of the library (e.g. in the periodicals room on the fifth floor). At these terminals you can access the full text of material unavailable outside the library. You can print directly from most stations. You are usually allowed to print up to one-third of a source at any one time.
Of course, not all material is digitized. Besides books, some older government publications and many journal articles are not scanned. Further, the NAL search engine turns up many articles, but not all. You may need to supplement your searches with use of indexes.
Staff. The staff at the NAL are not often very helpful. Be prepared to search for materials on your own. Most staff at the information counter are not trained librarians and are unable to answer basic questions. (I once found myself explaining to a staff member what an “index” is.) They mostly explain how to use the online databases.
Photocopying and printing. There are copy machines in the photocopy room on the first floor and in many of the reading rooms (new materials, periodicals, etc). Purchase a copy card (at 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 won) in the photocopy room. The same card can be used to print from stations.
Location and hours. The NAL is located inside the National Assembly complex and is easily reached by public transport. Line 9’s National Assembly station puts you at the doorstep. If you are coming by Line 5, you can also skip the transfer and walk about 20 minutes from Yeouido station through the park to the National Assembly complex. Adjacent to the park is a multi-lane bus transfer station. All library services are open weekdays from 9am to 6pm. On weekends most services function between 9am and 5 pm, but a few specialized rooms are closed. Library doors are open weekdays from 6pm to 10pm but most material, including the main books collection, cannot be accessed. The library is closed alternate Saturdays.
Access. The NAL is open to the public. If you have Korean ID, you can apply for a card using one of the machines at the entrance. It’s even easier, surprisingly, if you are a foreigner. Just present your passport to the staff at the counter, who will give you a slip for filling in your name and contact information. They will keep your passport and give you a one-day pass to wear around your neck. Deposit any bags and books in the lockers facing the counter. You can bring laptop computers into the library.
The NAL is obsessed with technology. Some it gets right, others not quite. The system for requesting books is easy and quick. The amount of material they have scanned into the online database is staggering. But the entrance system has gotten excessively complicated. If you leave for a moment, you must tap your card upon exiting, otherwise you will not be able to get back in.
Internet. Unless you have signed up for a wifi package with a telecom company, wifi is not available in the library. To connect to the Internet, go to the second floor and cross the skybridge to a computer lab where you can book a station for one hour at a time. This lab fills up in the afternoon.
Food. The library has an excellent cafeteria in the basement. The price has been raised considerably in the last couple of years, but at 3,500 won the meal is a bargain. Be warned that office workers in Yeouido are well aware of this deal and come in droves. To avoid the crowd, it’s best to turn up at 11:30 sharp when the cafeteria opens, or after 12:30. Packaged snacks and beverages are available in the concession shop next to the cafeteria where you purchase your meal ticket. Coffee vending machines, selling coffee at just 200 won a shot, are in the main lobby. A few steps from the library you can find all manner of convenience stores, eateries, and wifi-equipped coffee shops.
Department of Political Science
National University of Singapore (NUS)
Image: National Assembly Building of South Korea located in Yeido, Seoul. Photograph by frakorea, Wikimedia Commons.
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